Worth, Morality, Practicality & Wages

The sentiments that one finds on the internet can be fascinating in how our current culture confuses and conflates things – or jumps to conclusions. I found something posted on Facebook – a medium from which I’ve been drawing a lot of examples lately – that bears scrutiny. And not only the original post – but – a follow up comment – directed pleasantly at me. I had commented there – in a limited fashion as FB etiquette demands and the flow of life commands – there’s other posts, you know. So, here’s what I would have said there had I had a while to think about it and a two page essay to go on about it.

Here’s what the lady says in her original post:

If budget are moral documents (as opposed to practical documents) I Just created the most honorable and ethical budget…EVER! Pay people what they are worth!

Here’s what the gentlemen following up says:

Jim: I know gray areas are not your strong suit, but a budget can be both an expression of practicality and an expression of morality. A person who can afford to pay 20 but pays 10, is surely outlining their values quite clearly.

Strangely, he refutes her. She says the two options are opposed – and he says they can be together – and yet, they both would probably feel they are together – and against me somehow (no, not in a bad way, don’t worry.) – they’re not, no not at all.

 Let me stipulate that I’m not opposed to paying people all you can afford, or what they’re worth, or what you think they’re worth, or what they think they’re worth that can get out of you, or what the going rate is for that type of labor, or what you think you can get away with on the low side – in fact, I’m really not opposed to any pay that two people come to agree on in their quest to satisfy each others needs. The latter proposition is the hardest to justify if one looks at it as “what the owner pays the worker” rather than “what the worker wants to earn.” Nor am I opposed to either statement – except the not seeing gray – for I think I see far more gray than is implied by both statements – and that the first statement is far more black and white than it supposes to be.

 A worker who is out of work might well be willing to work for less than anyone thinks is fair – it is his moral right to do so – indeed, if he has wife and kids, and even just himself, – it is his moral duty to work for whatever he can get – at least until he finds the proverbial something better. The worth of labor has two values – one is what someone is willing to pay – and the other is what someone is willing to accept. They are sometimes the same, but often they are not. That’s why some jobs go wanting, and other jobs have too many applications.

 There’s nothing inherent in a wage rate that makes it moral. For instance – if one would pay $20 for ditch digging and $10 for DJ spinning – which job would get more applicants? I would say the DJ spin job would have more applicants. Suppose there’s a man with kids and the son of a rich kid – they both show up for the $20 ditch job – to whom is the job more valuable? The value is simply not inherent in the wage that’s for sure. Indeed, the fact that jobs go wanting is what drives up wages – until $20, or $25 induces the DJ spinners to pick up a shovel.

 But then, too, moral is not “opposed” to practical. Indeed, many moral things are eminently practical – like, oh, not smashing people in the face for no good reason. Oh, the impracticality of that, eh? And many practical things are also moral. So there’s no opposition whatsoever in the two concepts. They’re not the same, no – but they certainly can be friends. And a practical budget can be very moral – ask the Amish, ask a church with few funds but an on going ministry – ask a small business – or a self-employed artist and piano player. These must be very practical, they are by their nature – and yet, very moral. In once sense, the second quoted statement is opposite to the first statement, though I’d be they think they’re on the same side.

 And still, most of the moral precepts of say, religion, and philosophy, and even perhaps diversity, are well grounded in practicality. Not murdering is practical, murder is not practical. But, I would think we view this more as a moral issue, and less a practical issue. And that’s because they are not the same, but often go skipping down the lane together, one leading the way sometimes, and other times the other. I suppose it could be sorted out – this balance between moral and practical – to decide which one is leading the way in our quest for living the good life, but I contend they are never far from each other.

 A budget was brought up. OK, let’s look at budgets – first, it’s probably true that budgets are by their nature better thought of as practical and not moral efforts. Though, certainly morality is involved. They are practical to a finite degree if one must live within one’s means. That is, if you are budgeting for a business, or an arts group, and you have X amount of dollars that you know are coming in – you can only really budget for X to go out. X-1 would be better, to push for next year … But you surely couldn’t budget X+10 – that wouldn’t work – it would be impractical. Regardless of your moral purpose – feeding the poor, housing the sick, planting the fields, whatever – you have to have the money or the thing — the time, the goods, the energy – on a gut practical level to make your budget.

 You may not get what you want – but, it will be practical. And that’s moral too – because your entity does what it wants, and it goes on to do it again. And practicality this year has the most charming property of becoming more moral on the scale of practical/moral next year – for you’ll be able to do more next year – you’ll be more experienced, you’ll have built up some infrastructure. You perhaps could be said to have invested in the future – which is a moral thing to do – by being practical.

 Now, suppose you want to pay your workers $20 an hour – and you only have $10 to pay them? You can’t pay them what you morally wish to do. Practicality isn’t opposed to morality in this case – they’re just a little farther apart.

 Suppose you have the $20 – well, you might well have the $20 in cash terms this year right now – but are you saving for next year? – new equipment? – more employees? That is, the seen part of the great seen-unseen of economics is that you have the money – and of course, if you’ve stated you’ll always pay what you got – people will expect that money. They will not see or understand that some of it is kept as investment for the future … a new machine, say. Indeed, the budget might well include savings for the future – but few workers will see it as such – they will see it as cash today. And that’s because, alas, all humankind has this idea that they are overworked and underpaid. There is not a person alive who thinks he’s earning his truth worth – and if he sees money in the hands of his employer, he will think he should and can get a pay raise – regardless of any other factor. That’s just reality.

 If you pay your workers $20 – you can’t hire twice as many as you can at $10. Suppose there’s 20 people who are all unemployed. You have enough to pay 10 of them $20 an hour or enough to pay 20 of them $10 an hour. Which you do is perhaps your business. What is moral though is really not determinable in any finite sense. There’s too many variables. So, who gets to decide? The business owner? The workers? Weirdly, the workers who can get $20 will tell the 10 unemployed to go away, – unions do this all the time – while the owner might be much more moral and hire all 20 at $10.

 Now, suppose a large company like oh, GE has 300,000 employees and the president and CEO make $20,000,000 – do they? They get it in paper, yes – but they often can’t spend it – it’s in stock they can’t sell because of SEC rules. On the other hand – is this man worth $20 million while the rest of the workers might be making an average of say, $50,000 a year? Suppose you look at it as per decision. There’s 300,000 employees. Everyday they’re at work, or involved in work since we’ve tied health care and housing through the mortgage deduction, and HAZMAT workforce educational improvements through OSHA on Saturdays of course (oh, please, I’ve had to go,) much of life is now tied to work like in olden days of serfdom – and then, well, the decisions made seem to come everyday – 300,000 of them. And so, suppose we value the decision at a buck a day per decision per person.

 It is the moral duty, I would suppose, for the CEO to keep the business going – so that the 300,000 are employed tomorrow and next year too – so perhaps with all his decision making it happens he earns the money. The pressure must be intense, that’s for sure. What’s that worth? Many employees wouldn’t do it, couldn’t do it.

 Then there’s Non-Profits like the government propped up NFL – which earns $9 Billion a year in revenue, and for a small cadre has astounding pay levels – the players – and the rest of the people make tiny bits. In a sense, the NFL is a government monopoly – all sports leagues are – the organizations set up to run the leagues are all very cozy with government – that’s why the players have to testify before congress on drug use – and that’s why stadiums are built for a billion a pop with public money – the whole thing is a Romanesque circus indeed. Still, it’s not moral if the morality is that if there’s X amount of cash than everyone has to have the same or similar share that’s for sure. Yet, no one really seems to refer to the “obscene” budgets and salaries of the NFL … weird.

 And, in all this figuring and whatnot – who is to determine what a given entity can pay? The best solution is to have the decision made directly between payer and payee – but the problem is that it is often tried to be done through legislation, which always fails – for the legislation always is one size fits all – and ignores the needs and wants of both sides to the equation.

 And so, the first proposition doesn’t quite hold up because morality and practicality are not opposed to each other. And the second proposition doesn’t support the first because it agrees that a budget could be both – which I contend too.

 Meanwhile, there is so much gray – that the shades aren’t clear – which is why the issue should be left to the people with the paint brushes on the scene – and not to some bureaucrat with a can or two or paint trying to divine the right shade of gray between “moral” and “practical” and the adjudication of the fact that no one ever thinks they are ever paid what they think they are worth – and that some people will work for less than what some third party thinks they are worth.

 In many ways this whole thing is the minimum wage conundrum – the lowest wage possible legally has been set by a bureaucrat who thinks they can divine the moral and practical thing to do. They see the hourly wage and say: “good.” – But, they really can’t have knowledge of the different money situations of a company – or its labor needs – nor the needs of workers. They can’t know that perhaps the company simply doesn’t have the cash to pay the minimum wage – so, it will not hire any more workers. And perhaps even let some go. If there’s only 21 bucks, and the minimum wage is 7 – that’s three workers. Raise the minimum to $10 and someone is going to get fired. Sure, it’s good for two workers, lousy for the third. What’s moral? What’s practical for who?

 Then too, there are people willing to work for less than the minimum for reasons that no bureaucrat can understand – and its perhaps not even possible for this worker to explain – perhaps an elderly person merely wishing to spend some time out of the house – he’s willing to work for $5 – the employer is willing and able to pay $5 – morality and practicality are met – but, legally it can’t be done – indeed, in this case the minimum wage law impedes actual morality and practicality for a version that’s in the sky.

 There are many other instances where it can be shown that willing workers and willing employers are simply now prohibited from reaching agreements – because someone has determined that some third party can and should budget for a “fair” wage – regardless of any reality – and thus, the individual’s moral duty, and practical duty, to earn money is gone – for the good, amazingly, it is said, of society.

 So, let people who wish to pay more pay it, and those who wish to pay less do that. And anyone can chose to work one way or the other, and accept any pay wishes – and get the law and bureaucrat out of the way. And be happy that in each case – it will be moral and practical on the basis of what people involved think is true.

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